It's been a great month for taking in games at various stadiums for me. First was one of many games at PETCO this year, only this time I got to move right behind the plate during the Giants series thanks to my in-laws. Then I visited a game at the Pads AAA affiliate in Tucson which I highlighted in my last fanpost. Then I got to take in a game in Atlanta's Turner Field on a visit to that muggy city. And last and definitely not least I was able to take in one last game at the Padres High-A affiliate just an hour drive up the 15 at the Lake Elsinore Storm. The Storm for those that don't know or for those that haven't made the trip up play at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore. The Diamond is a gem of a little ballpark a short drive off I-15.
More after the jump.
First a little bit of general info about the Diamond and the Storm. The Diamond is a 6,066 seat stadium that opened back in 1994 in the small Inland Empire Lakeside resort town of Lake Elsinore. It was built to draw in a minor league team. They weren't sure what level they wanted to draw, which is one of the reasons that The Diamond is a fair bit larger than all but one other stadium in the California League. She also cost a fair bit more than the typical Single A stadium costing almost $25 million to build. What Lake Elsinore got for their money however, is one of the nicest parks in all of MiLB and arguably the gem of the California League. The city was immediately able to draw in the Angels affiliate out of Palm Springs who renamed themselves the Storm. And through a swap in player development contracts the Padres became the Storm's MLB parent franchise in 2000 and are signed up to be so through at least the 2014 season.
The Diamond itself is not located in the most happening of areas. The stadium was built in an area adjoining Lake Elsinore itself that was expected to be built up. However with the economic collapse and other factors in play the area has not seen the growth the city expected which has left the stadium sitting somewhat isolated from the surrounding town surrounded only by empty land and the stadium's two parking lots. That said there are a pair of shopping centers and a few restaurants within a 5-10 minute walk from the ballpark if a visitor were feeling up to it which I was on the day I visited since I showed up almost an hour and a half before the gates opened.
When the gates did finally open I entered the park as I have many times before. To walk up to the gates you find yourself on a beautifully manicured pathway as you can see in the first photo above. It features among other things a pair of pitcher and batter wire statutes as well as other baseball motif items which are very well done. The ballpark itself is built in the "Camden" style with green roof and brick exterior that is quite fetching. When you enter the main gate you find yourself on the main concourse just above home plate and the seating bowl with its maroon colored seats. This vantage point affords you a very good look at the entire park.
The first thing I always seem to notice is Lake Elsinore's answer to the Green Monster only in right field and covered with ads like the landmark Boston wall was over half a century ago. The other thing that immediately pops out at you is just how big the field is at the Diamond. With the Left Center power alley being 425 feet and the other dimensions being similarly daunting, the Diamond probably comes closer than any other stadium in the Padres system to mimicing the effects of PETCO's large dimensions. Another thing that stands out, particularly for a Single A park, is that Lake Elsinore has not one, but two Diamondvision style video boards in Right Center and LF in addition to the nice hand operated scoreboard that is embedded in the large RF wall.
Another thing you've probably noticed by now on your visit, is the heat. It gets hot in Lake Elsinore. It was over 100 degrees when I showed up in the parking lot and hadn't cooled down too much by the time the gates had opened (though it was very pleasant with a nice breeze and in the 80's by the 2nd inning). But not to fret, unlike say, Tucson, Lake Elsinore has a solution to the heat problem if you happen to take in one of their rare day games. The Diamond features a great enclosed restaurant down the left field line called the Diamond Club. The Club is completely enclosed and air conditioned for those days when the sun is just too much.
If you're not feeling in need of complete A/C the Club also features a three tiered patio with large mister fans on it that also can cool you down some and afford you up close views of LF and the Storm bullpen which is immediately below the lowest tier. It's a great way to watch future Padres pitching prospects warm up, up close. As well as the occasional rehabbing star from the big club. While partaking in the Club's cooler aspects you can sample from their extensive and reasonably priced menu as well that features both traditional fare as well as some more exotic items such as black bean burgers and "the pipeline" which features carne asada, shrimp and french fries in a burrito. The patio, and stadium, also features a decent beer selection from your typical domestic swill up to craft beers from Hanger 24 brewery (their Pale Ale was very good).
If you don't feel like visiting the resturant there are also a pair of main standard concession stands, along with a few smaller ones on the concourse. Also on the concourse you'll find the team store behind the plate and kids play area down the RF line. The concourse itself is very nice with a high roof providing plenty of shade for both itself and the stands, particularly during afternoon/evening games and it is impeccably clean.
As I mentioned above there is a kids fun zone down the right field line. However the amenities for the smaller fans don't end there. The stadium itself also has a great berm in right field not unlike those at spring training stadiums that is more often used by munchkins for various little kid shenanigans and is always covered by the little folks when I've visited Lake Elsinore. The teams itself also does a great job keeping kids, and easily distracted adults, entertained as many minor league teams do with all sorts of games and giveaways during the between innings periods. The M/C for most of these is the Storm's primary mascot, Thunder the Dog.
Thunder is a green dog that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Philly Phanatic. He's the self described "Mascot of the Year" for a decade running. However he's also 0 for 12 years at beating little kids in a race around the bases (a fact the stadium announcer was more than willing to mock him with). If mascots are you thing, Thunder does not work alone however. He is joined by Jackpot the Rabbit, an energizer bunnyesque character whose primary job it is to pop out of the large RF wall every time the Storm score and do a little dance. There is also the Groundskeeper Gorilla who comes out during one of the groundskeeper sweeps and causes all sorts of trouble from whacking umpires with foam sticks to dancing Thriller. And if you happen to visit on a night the Storm are losing going into the bottom of the ninth, you'll be visited by the Rally Cop. A belligerent CHiPs extra who fires the crowd up while firing soft baseballs at the crowd as hard as he can.
If you're in the market for a luxury box (or couldn't afford one at PETCO) you might want to consider the Diamond. The stadium has several on the upper level flanking the press box. The Press Box itself is small but does feature the team's announcers, press and radio broadcasters (the Storm are on both internet radio, iPhone, and 92.9 K-FROG FM).
As for the game I took in, it was Wednesday Night, last week. The Storm were facing the San Jose Giants of the Northern Division (who are obviously the affiliate of the SF Giants). The Giants had already locked up a playoff spot by that point, but the Storm were still fighting it out for one of the last wildcard spots in the Southern Division. The Storm are the current defending California League Champions so their shot at a repeat was on the line. I was lucky in that the night's starting pitcher was none other than a rehabbing Joe Thatcher (see photo above). He was quite the draw near the dugout before he started his warmups. It was also interesting to see two starting pitchers warming up at the same time as Joe was only slated to pitch one inning before turning the game over to the actual Storm starter Matt Branham. Thatcher pitched a great top of the 1st, facing 3 batters and striking out one. The Storm came out to an early 3-0 lead before having it whittled away by the 8th to go down 4-3. However the Rally Cop worked and the Storm tied it in the 9th. The game went into extras with the Storm going down 1 again in the top of the 11th before rallying back and winning the game in the bottom of the 11th to stay alive in the WC race. They've since made the playoffs slipping into the last WC spot. They've already begun the first round "mini series" and have already taken game one of that series at home. Provided they can win one of the two on the road tonight or tomorrow night in Lancaster they'll be moving on. That will also be fans only hope of seeing a game at the Diamond again this year.
As for seeing a game in Lake Elsinore, if you haven't, do so. It is a great minor league experience better than most others out there I've had the chance to take in. And the Storm's popularity is a testament to just how great a time it is at the Diamond (the Storm lead the Cal League in attendance (and lead the Padres AAA affiliate in Tucson in attendance for that matter)). It's a fun way to have a great night out with the family, it works as a cheap way to hang with friends, if you're looking for something different than PETCO but can't stand LA this is your place, or if you're like me and were just giving your wife a night off from you it works well for that too. Regardless of your reasons it is a must see for Padres fans.